Covering Ag since 1981. The faces, places, markets and issues of dairy and livestock production. Hard-hitting topics, market updates and inspirational stories from the notebook of a veteran ag journalist. Contributing reporter for Farmshine since 1987; Editor of former Livestock Reporter 1981-1998; Before that I milked cows. @Agmoos on Twitter, @AgmoosInsight on FB #MilkMarketMoos
WASHINGTON D.C. — The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched a new “rumor control” webpage on May 16, described as the hub to stop what the FDA calls “false, inaccurate, or misleading health information” that is “negatively impacting the public’s health.”
How does FDA define misinformation? “It’s information, spread intentionally and unintentionally, that is false, inaccurate, or misleading according to the best available evidence at the time,” the announcement explains.
Who decides what is the best available evidence at the time? An info-graphic recommends checking sources and cross-referencing the information with reliable sources.
What is a reliable source? FDA describes it in one section as “the federal government and its partners” and describes it in another section as “a non-profit fact-checking source or government resource.”
A video narrator at FDA rumor-control explains the next step is to read beyond the headlines on the internet for context and to “understand the purpose of the post.”
Scrolling to the bottom of the landing page are instructions to report misinformation.
“We face the challenge of an overabundance of information related to our public health. Some of this information may be false and potentially harmful,” the FDA rumor control webpage states. “If you see content online that you believe to be false or misleading, you can report it to the applicable platform.”
These words are followed by icons to click for administrators at Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and WhatsApp.
FDA has posted to this hub its ‘fact documents’ on several hot topics such as vaccines, dietary supplements, and sunscreen, stating that more topics will be added in the future.
Will nutrition become one of them, now that the Administration has placed a priority on FDA’s role as purveyors of the Dietary Guidelines as gospel?
Case in point, just three weeks prior to launching the rumor-control hub, the FDA announced it is “prioritizing nutrition initiatives to ensure people in the U.S. have greater access to healthier foods and nutrition information to identify healthier choices more easily… to improve eating patterns and, as a result, improve everyone’s health and wellness.”
“People need to know what they should be eating, and the FDA is already using its authority around healthy labeling, so you know what to eat,” said the President during the White House Conference where the Biden-Harris National Strategy was unveiled in September 2022.
The FDA proposed rule on ‘healthy labeling’ came out on the same day. Comments ended months ago but the final rule has not yet been published in the Federal Register.
The FDA nutrition initiatives are being pursued “to help accelerate efforts to empower consumers with information and create a healthier food supply.”
According to the FDA news release, the federal government currently believes obesity and chronic diet-related diseases are on the rise because American eating patterns are not aligning with the federal Dietary Guidelines. The press release states that most people consume too much saturated fat, sodium and added sugar, and the FDA nutrition initiatives aim to correct this.
FDA’s nutrition priorities in progress, include:
1) Developing an updated definition and a voluntary symbol for the ‘healthy’ nutrient content claim, front-of-package labeling, dietary guidance statements and e-commerce labeling, and
2) Supporting innovation by changing standards of identity such as labeling requirements for plant-based foods.
In addition to issuing its controversial plant-based milk labeling rule earlier this year, which would allow the pattern of fake milk proliferation to simply continue, the FDA in the first four months of 2023 sent letters of ‘no objection’ to three companies in their respective requests for GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status for cellular lab-created meat.
Several ferrmentation-vat dairy protein analog makers — including Perfect Day with its genetically-altered yeast excrement posing as dairy protein — received their ‘no objection’ to GRAS letters from FDA in 2020.
As reported in Farmshine over the past several years, the FDA has been on its “multi-year nutrition innovation strategy” since 2018. However, the pace has accelerated since September 12, 2022, when Executive Order 14081 was signed by President Biden just 10 days before the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.
Entitled Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe and Secure American Bioeconomy, the Presidential EO 14081 states: “For biotechnology and biomanufacturing to help us achieve our societal goals, the United States needs to invest in… and develop genetic engineering technologies and techniques to be able to write circuitry for cells and predictably program biology in the same way in which we write software and program computers; unlock the power of biological data, including through computing tools and artificial intelligence; and advance the science of scale‑up production while reducing the obstacles for commercialization so that innovative technologies and products can reach markets faster.”
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: All roads lead back to the umbrella of the Dietary Guidelines. The current DGA Committee began meeting recently in the process of formulating the 2025-30 DGAs. Entrenched in four decades of low-fat dogma, the USDA and HHS, along with the 2010, 2015 and 2020 DGA Committees, repeatedly left out of the discussion dozens of scientific papers, even research by the National Institutes of Health, that showed the neutral to beneficial impact of saturated fats on human health and the positive role of nutrient dense foods that are high in protein and essential nutrients but also contain saturated fat such as whole milk, full-fat dairy, and unprocessed red meat. Given the fact that childhood obesity and chronic diet-related disease incidence are rising rapidly, an objective fact-checker could easily determine that the Dietary Guidelines, themselves, are health misinformation. Clearly, children are the sector of the population whose eating patterns closely align with the Dietary Guidelines since 2010. They don’t have a choice. Most children today eat two meals a day, five days a week, three quarters of the year at school where the Dietary Guidelines rule with an iron hand. Let’s not forget the 2020 DGA Committee admitted that all of the DGA eating patterns came up short in essential nutrients found in animal foods, but when a committee member warned of this on final public reading, the saturated fat subcommittee chair mentioned taking vitamin pills and noted ‘new designer foods are coming.’)
‘Deals with the Devil at Davos’ published in Farmshine June 10, 2022 may have left some readers’ heads spinning. So, let me boil it down to what I see happening: The ramping up of a pervasive global transformation of life itself being leveraged on the masses by the biggest actors in food, energy, capital and policy.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is the place where plans are hatched to transform food and energy in the name of sustainable climate and environment. (Great Reset)
This includes goals of setting aside 30% of the earth’s land surface by 2030 for re-wilding and biodiversity – 50% by 2050.
This includes top-tier elite billionaire investor plans to transform food through plant-based and lab-created meat and dairy lookalikes and blends, with the purpose of replacing livestock, especially cattle.
This includes “sustainability” measures being enacted by the world’s largest global food and agriculture companies as the leverage point to position producers and consumers into the headlocks of their vision, their capital, their control.
The bottom line is that the dairy and beef checkoff programs have joined in by creating alliances and initiatives as partners with these WEF actors, including individuals, corporations and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This gives the appearance of a bottom-up approach, when in reality it is top-down, and has been gradually bringing more farm-level decisions and practices in line with what the Davos crowd is cooking up.
The vehicle? Measuring, tracking and controlling carbon.
In other words, controlling energy, food, and land, and with it life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, with a strategy to condition the next generation to accept an alternate reality.
In short, checkoff funds are used at the national level for many things, one key element being dairy transformation to fall in line with the transformation goals of the globalist elites. We can see the business and policy changes that translate to the farm level just beginning amid a void of understanding for the essential role cattle play in true environmental sustainability and the carbon cycle of life itself.
Of all farm and food animals, the life cycle of cattle is tied to the largest land base. Think about that in the context of the land set-aside goals for 2030 and 2050.
Meanwhile, the consumers that the farmers think they are reaching with their checkoff dollars are having their voices stolen by the supply chain actors. On the other end of the spectrum, farmers are also having their voice stolen as their mandatory dollars target the ways they are and may be expected to conform in order to access this narrowing and consolidating supply chain leverage point and the capital to run their farms.
When farmers and consumers talk directly to one another, they find out that they care about the same things and can reach mutual respect and understanding – as long as the WEF’s Klaus Schwab and friends don’t use their position in the supply chain leverage point, the middle, to set the rules of the game.
How are they herding farmers and consumers into headlocks? By transforming the future through their definitions of measuring, tracking and controlling carbon – the essence of life.
These things are happening without voice or vote, and in part, mandatory checkoff funds have been instrumental over the past 12 to 14 years in shaping this transformation through alliances.
Life on earth would not be possible without carbon. It is one of the most important chemical elements because it is the main element in all living things and because it can make so many different compounds and can exist in different forms.
Bottomline: The measuring, tracking, trading and control of carbon means the measuring, tracking, trading and control of life.
Who will have a voice in life when there is a global consortium laying out the control, access and transformation for the essential element of life – never mind liberty, land (property), and the pursuit of happiness.
Most farmers think they are promoting and educating consumers with checkoff funds. Yes, they are to some degree. However, a significant portion of those funds and/or the direction of funding is tied up in sustainability alliances that ultimately redirect the Davos-hatched transformation agenda right back onto the farm.
DAVOS — Let’s follow your checkoff money all the way to Davos, where Klaus Schwab and friends, known as the World Economic Forum (WEF), gather annually in Switzerland. This is where globalist elites have been plotting and planning the net zero economy, complete with food transformation maps.
On May 26, your message was delivered and your future was signed up, with your money through your checkoff programs — a plan 14 years in the making under the DMI umbrella of multiple so-called non-profit foundations and alliances.
Some of the same global actors in the WEF food transformation movement are also represented in the various non-profit alliances that were created by your checkoff in the 2008 through 2012 time-period.
At Davos, the May 26 panel on “redirecting capital in agriculture” is where “farmers voices were heard for the first time,” they said.
Don’t worry, the purpose was to get you the money from Davos billionaires to do all the things they will be requiring you to do to be part of the new net zero economy they are creating with the net zero goal DMI has set for you — despite the fact you didn’t vote on it or sign up for it, and experts can’t even agree on what it means or how it will be measured.
But that’s okay, your checkoff created surveys, sustainability platforms and strategic alliance non-profits to bring the largest processors together “pre-competitively” to set the timelines, plan the parameters, and craft your messages.
DMI “thought leaders” often talk about getting ahead of “societal issues” such as animal care and the environment via the Innovation Center — to avoid regulation. That is the basis of the FARM program, for example.
But the reality is the regulatory side has at least some accountability — a process via our democratic republic if we still have one.
What democratic process was used to determine the rules your farm will live by — as decreed by the corporations buying what you produce, and now also the access to capital you will need to continue?
Consumers have not asked for this, and neither have you. But your checkoff has done it for you and will help you navigate.
DMI issued a press release just a few days before Davos about how the Sustainability Summit they held state-side to help you, the farmer, navigate this new future they have been creating with your checkoff money.
“Never has the opportunity been greater for us to come together and demonstrate our collective impact,” said DMI CEO Barb O’Brien in opening the pre-Davos Summit. “And frankly, never has it been more urgent as we work to meet the growing demands and expectations of both customers and consumers around personal wellness, environmental sustainability and food security.”
These are pretty words.
The press release cites the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment as having 35 companies representing 75% of the milk market signed on. The four pieces DMI is working on were listed in a vague way: 1) utilizing new ‘digital frontiers’ for point-of-purchase ‘strategies’, 2) promoting a new definition of ‘health and wellness’, 3) fulfilling an ‘impact imperative’ they say exists among consumers positioning U.S. Dairy as the leader in addressing societal challenges such as climate change, and 4) targeting ‘inclusive relevance,’ which O’Brien said Gen Z is the driver as the most diverse generation to-date with societal expectations for companies and brands.
Two weeks later, the thought leader representing you in Davos told the gathered elite, the billionaires, the power-centers, that your soil has “perpetual societal value” and should be invested-in and traded as an “asset class,” that farmers are the “eco workforce to be deployed,” and that investors and lenders should “redirect capital” to “de-risk” the investments farmers must make as “climate warriors that are planting the future.”
We missed that memo. Lots of buzz terms here, so let them sink in.
Here’s the reality: Farmers’ voices were NOT heard in Davos. Instead, what was heard was the voices of the WEF billionaires, the WWF supply-chain leveraging model, the string-pullers (thought leaders), and the plan-developers.
We don’t even know all the tentacles behind the pretty words used to describe what you have already been signed up for. Rest assured, DMI will roll them out gradually through the Innovation Center and FARM, and investors, lenders and others will put them in the fine print of farmer access to capital and markets.
It’s more truthful to say the farmers’ voice is being stolen in this process.
Your autonomy, independence and decision-making is being overridden. Your permission is being granted for the WEF Davos billionaires to step right up, help themselves, and determine your options, your future through their investments in a soils asset class — because, climate.
During the WEF panel, it was Erin Fitzgerald who carried “the farmers’ voice” to Davos.
Fitzgerald is CEO of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action (name changed in 2020 from the previous U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance). She became the USFRA CEO in 2018 after spending the previous 11 years working for DMI as Vice President of Sustainability and several other roles and titles while the FARM program and net zero framework was being developed. She spoke “for farmers and ranchers” in four sessions at the WEF annual meeting in Davos, including one panel about redirecting capital in agriculture, where she talked about soil as an “asset class” and farmers as the “eco workforce.”
During her comments on the Davos panel about “redirecting capital,” she made it clear that your consumer is “no longer the person at the checkout” in the grocery store. She said it’s the pension fund investors looking for low-risk investments.
Even that is not entirely accurate. The truth is that DMI — in the creation of its many precompetitive alliances — has its sights set on bigger fish: the billionaires at Davos, the venture capitalists, the global corporations investing in climate.
In fact, this is being driven behind the scenes by Edelman, the global PR firm that receives $16 to $18 million in checkoff funds annually as the contractor for DMI over the past decade of plotting and planning. Edelman is a key player at Davos. GENYOUth was the Edelman brainchild, and outgoing CEO Alexis Glick was originally tapped by Richard Edelman, himself, to lead GENYOUth as a former financial analyst who made Davos a high point of her itinerary.
Back to the WEF panel on May 26 — the messages that have been crafted were touted, along with a narrative about what you will do in the next 30 harvests as the “eco workforce” of the “new global net zero economy.”
Listening to some of the livestreamed sessions, other panels highlighted the future of food, energy and financing to all be rooted in carbon impact.
Some panels noted the fast pace of the WEF global transformation is creating inflation pain, but the globalist elites are not concerned, even saying “that’s a good thing.”
Other panels delved into individual carbon tracking, to measure, record and score what each one of us eats, where we go, how we get there.
Truth be told, consumers are also being signed up for the net zero economy, although most don’t even know it yet. In a free America, I’m not sure we voted on this global-control-fast-track either.
Fitzgerald, whose role is described as “building sustainable food systems of the future,” laid it out for the crowd of investors, corporations, regulators, and government officials.
On the Davos stage, she said she brought the farmers’ message and referred specifically to the DMI board chair as “my chair Marilyn, a farmer from Pennsylvania.” (Marilyn Hershey also sits on the USFRA board.)
In the ‘redirecting capital’ discussion, another layer of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) model of leveraging the few players in the middle of the food supply chain to move consumers and producers at both ends was very much in play.
This is not surprising. The DMI alliance with WWF also spanned a 12-year period from 2008 to 2020 when all of these non-profit alliances were formed under the DMI umbrella to bring global processors together as a platform for “pre-competitively” determining how all farms will operate in the future.
Your innovation and hard work were mentioned, but no credit was given to where you are, what you already accomplish, as farmers. It is all forward-looking to annually “make progress” over “the next 30 harvests.”
The stage was set for farmers to see capital “redirected” to de-risk certain types of operations and to make the soil you farm an “asset class.”
“We officially have our first solution,” declared the Davos panel moderator, turning to the panelist sitting beside Fitzgerald, saying “that’s your area, let’s do it.” Who was this panelist? None other than David MacLennan, the board chair and CEO of Cargill, and a former member of the Chicago Board of Trade and Board of Options Exchange.
Think about this for a moment. Soil as an asset class dovetails nicely with the 30 x 30 land grab, another WEF / WWF / Great Reset / Build Back Better invention.
Lured by money or financing, the soil you farm — if it becomes a tradable asset class with financing channeled to certain practices begs this question: Whose land does it become and what will be your accountability through the Security and Exchange Commission or the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for disclosures? Farm Bureau is already sounding the alarm on proposed rules about supply chain producers being an open book to the SEC for claims made by companies buying their raw commodities.
More importantly, who will make the decisions on your farm? Fitzgerald asked the audience to “put aside the term ‘farmer’ and think about ‘these people’ as the “eco workforce.’”
Your voice, through your checkoff, just went into the den of thieves to offer your land, your future, your autonomy — as a farmer, rancher, landowner, generational steward of God-given resources in your community — and put it on a silver platter for the Davos global elites under the feel-good message of farmer as climate warrior, an eco workforce planting the future in the net zero economy.
They said your voice was heard, your story was told, and they’ll get you the investment funds for projects. In “thinking about soils as a perpetual asset to society,” Fitzgerald said investors can do what was done for the renewable energy sector in 2008 to “prop it up and get it moving.”
“This eco workforce has boots on the ground,” she said. “They have every bit of capability, but they’re going to be battling the real effects of disrupted markets and climate change, and they also have unbelievable talent. Our farmers are doing amazing work as climate eco warriors. Are we as business agents of change here at Davos really creating the finance models to de-risk their investment to let them plant the future and be the eco warriors they can be in the fight on climate change?”
More pretty words that might sound inspiring to some, until we pull back the layers and realize deals are being made with the devil.
MYERSTOWN, Pa. — No, they don’t get massages, and they aren’t fed beer as the stories go about the intimate care of the Wagyu in Japan.
However, at Spotlight Holsteins in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, Wagyu is the beef-on-dairy crossbreeding fit, and the cattle are given the time they need to produce the outstanding beef characteristics the Wagyu are known for — doing so on a lower energy diet.
The whole thing started before 2020, the year Adam Light sold his 100-cow registered Holstein tiestall dairy herd in Jonestown and purchased the 240-cow robotic dairy farm and herd from Ralph Moyer in nearby Myerstown (above).
Today, Adam and his cousin Ben Light, a landscaper, are partners in Lightning Cattle Company.
They started with three Wagyu, two bulls and a heifer, purchased from the September 2018 dispersal through Hosking of the late Donald ‘Doc’ Sherwood’s Empire State herd he had bred over 17 years from imported genetics near Binghamton, New York. Doc Sherwood retired that year, and he and his herd were profiled in Farmshine (here)
Adam and Ben brought their investment home and had Zimmerman Custom Freezing collect the bulls. They also flushed the heifer for embryos.
Not only did they begin using those straws of Wagyu on some of Adam’s dairy cows, they also began making some available to other dairy farmers in return for first-dibs to buy the offspring, and they began leasing bulls to farms with beef cow-calf herds.
Today, they have two full-blooded Wagyu bulls, two full-blooded females, plus 34 crossbred animals in various stages of beef production, and they have sold almost a dozen finished beef.
“The key with this breed is to take your time. They need protein to grow, but on the energy side, they don’t need a whole lot. There’s no high energy diet in this. It’s really quite simple. Whatever the dairy heifers get is what the Wagyu crossbreds get, which is a kind of lower energy feed,” Adam explains.
The calves start in the nursery barn at his dairy, grouped with replacement heifers on automated Urban CalfMom feeders, where milk intakes can be customized. They also receive the same calf starter, calf grower and hay.
When they reach 400 to 500 pounds, the crossbreds are moved to Ben’s father’s crop and poultry farm near Jonestown, which is also home-base for Ben’s landscaping company.
There they become Ben’s responsibility until they reach 900 pounds on pasture with some supplemental forage as needed.
At around 900 pounds, the cattle come back to Adam’s dairy, where they are housed and fed the same mostly forage diet on the same steady growth plane of nutrition as the breeding age and bred heifers.
They finish at 1450 to 1500 pounds at about 26 months of age and are sold as beef quarters, halves and wholes from pre-orders, with the buyers paying the custom butcher for processing.
Like the Wagyu breed, Holsteins are slower to finish out. The difference is a straight Holstein needs a push with a high-energy diet to reach a higher quality grade, whereas the Wagyu crossbreds do it on lower energy feed.
“You really want to raise them 26 months, that’s longer than for other crossbreds. For us, it’s not a problem because we have the facilities, and we can feed them economically — right with our dairy animals — and have a more valuable beef animal at the end,” Adam explains.
After those initial years of lead time, Lightning Cattle Co. sold nine animals for beef in 2021. They expect to sell 10 in 2022, which should put them even on their original investment and the cost to make embryos to keep their Wagyu seed stock rolling forward, and they project to double the number sold in 2023 based on calves started in 2021.
What they sell is known as American Wagyu beef — mostly F1 Wagyu x Holstein with a few Wagyu x Angus and Wagyu x Jersey.
Having access to the crossbred calves from the dairy and beef herds that are using their Wagyu genetics helps ensure they can expand beef sales as demand grows, without tying up Adam’s dairy herd to make more crossbreds.
On his own cows, Adam turns to Wagyu after giving a cow two or three chances with Holstein. He’ll modify that decision based on visual appraisal and milk production, with an eye for the number and type of cows he needs and wants dairy replacements out of.
“They settle fast with Wagyu. The difference is evident under a microscope,” Adam reports.
Why Wagyu? Adam recalls his grandfather had some back in the early 2000’s. Half a dozen Wagyu cows and a bull were payment on a debt, which he added to the beef herd on his crop and livestock farm.
“No one really knew what they were back then,” Adam recalls, noting they aren’t beef show animals on-the-hoof. The outstanding meat characteristics are only seen on-the-rail as the flecks of fat are distributed evenly throughout the lean.
Almost 20 years later, Adam did the research. He learned about the breed from Japan, where there are different grades, names and regional identifiers for specific lines, and their tenderness transmissibility.
“The dairy industry was pretty ugly, and we were getting a bill instead of a check for our bull calves. Heifers weren’t worth much either, so we wanted to make a valuable animal to offset when other parts of the dairy industry are ugly,” Adam reflects back to 2018.
Wagyu won’t ring bells for average daily gain or fast finishing. While there are feedlots on the West Coast specifically dedicated to finishing F1 Wagyu dairy crosses, it’s different in the East and Midwest where they are mostly marketed into niche direct sales to consumers and restaurants.
Adam sees the Wagyu as a good fit for his dairy because he can optimize the assets he already has and feed them right with his heifers, instead of raising more heifers than his dairy needs.
“We’ve had different repeat customers tell us the big thing they noticed is the roasts are so much better, with no dry spots,” Adam relates. “I didn’t think there could be that much difference, but there really is, and it seems the Wagyu x Holstein is a great cross for that.”
Even in Japan, the dairy cross is sought as an economical option of their preferred beef — owing to this compatibility. Holsteins deposit marbling in a manner similar to Wagyu — but the Wagyu genetics put the quality into overdrive.
Selling by halves and quarters is less work than selling by beef cuts. Buyers are getting a range of items with some options to customize how they get their portion processed. They can do a simple cut-and-grind or ask for special order items such as bologna.
Lightning Cattle Co. has been approached by restaurants in the area, but to serve them, Adam and Ben would need to use a USDA-inspected plant, not a state-inspected custom butcher. USDA plants are few and far between and booked well into the future.
“We’ve had no issue selling the meat, and we’ve not done any advertising,” Ben notes. “We figured if we advertised too much, we might not be able to meet the demand. We’re taking it step by step.”
To price the quarters and halves, Adam believes in being fair and reasonable.
“We go off what the steers are selling for at the New Holland auction,” he says.
They look at the Choice and Prime steer price (not the dairy beef) and add a little to that for the Wagyu influence. The customer pays the liveweight price and the butcher’s fee.
Adam and Ben help buyers understand what they are getting and their cost per pound of cut-and-wrapped beef by converting it on a dressed basis for an informational estimate.
“It’s tough to create a market that doesn’t exist, but that’s what we’ve had to do,” Ben adds.
This is another reason the Lights have taken it step by step, giving themselves some growing room by spreading seed stock to other dairy farms for access to more calves.
Last fall (2021), they started their biggest group of crossbred calves that will finish out in 2023, double the number for 2022.
They have begun thinking about setting up a facebook page and had Lightning Cattle Co. T-shirts made, but they are still a bit cautious about advertising to be sure demand doesn’t get too far ahead of cattle coming up through.
The cousins like working with cattle, and they take pride in selling a finished product to others in their community. This also gives them opportunities for conversations with consumers about beef, dairy, and farming in general.
“Some people have heard of Wagyu beef from Japan. Some have heard you could pay $200 for a fancy 12-ounce steak, and some people don’t know much about it at all,” says Ben about the learning curve and the way crossbreeding makes this beef more economically accessible.
“What people really like is the idea of buying beef from farms, and that gets them interested in trying it,” he adds.
That’s the window of opportunity for the quality of the beef to sell itself into the future.
“It has been fun,” Adam admits. “It’s something different, and we don’t know where it will take us.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: May is Beef Month, and beef is becoming a bigger part of dairy today. In Part I in this series by Farmshine contributor Sherry Bunting — a former qualified live beef cattle grader, market reporter and past editor of the former Livestock Reporter — provides a helpful and experienced perspective on converging market dynamics that are opening doors to revenue for dairy farms.
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, May 13, 2022
EAST EARL, Pa. — The trend among dairy farms to breed a portion of dairy cowherds to beef sires is having a positive impact on revenue in several ways.
First, the bull calves bring more money. Week-old 90- to 120-pound crossbred dairy bull calves bring roughly double the price of a straight dairy calf at the livestock auctions. Last week, auctions in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. sold crossbred calves averaging $300, while straight Holstein bull calves of the same weight averaged $150.
Many farms are also feeding some crossbreds for beef sales direct to consumers — a burgeoning cottage industry that faces some bottlenecks because of limited small butcher capacity in a consolidated beef industry.
Second, dairy replacement heifers and young cows today are worth more – a lot more. According to the May 6 USDA Monthly Comprehensive Dairy report, fresh cows nationwide averaged $1468 in April, compared with $1009 a year ago; bred cows averaged $1417 vs. $1039, and bred heifers $1363 vs. $985. That’s a 37% increase for bred replacements, 45% increase for fresh animals.
A portion of this gain can be attributed, of course, to the rise in milk prices, but one key factor is the beef on dairy trend that has blunted the expansion curve of gender selection for heifers through sexed semen.
Specifically, there are 3% fewer dairy replacement heifers in the U.S. as of Jan. 1, 2022 compared with a year earlier, and 1% fewer milk cows, according to the January USDA semi-annual All Cattle and Calf Inventory report. The next look we’ll get at these numbers will be July.
Third, milk price gains are supported in the longer termby this restraint on what was previously a runaway train of increasingly available dairy heifers. Fewer replacements blunt the milk production expansion curve capability.
This is happening not just in the United States, but also in New Zealand and Australia, according to analysts quoted in New Zealand’s Farmers Weekly, predicting continued strength in annual milk price — in part due to the limited expansion capability. As feed prices rise, having two commodities — dairy and beef — offers some ways to look at feeding efficiency, such as feeding milk cow refusals to beef animals. Diversification also helps spread risk.
Changing the equation
Like the dairy cow herd, the beef cow herd is in a cycle of decline. The Jan. 1 Inventory Report showed the number of cattle on feed for beef was up slightly, but beef cow numbers are down 2% and beef replacement heifer numbers are down 3%, just like for dairy. This trend is being exacerbated by further culling due to drought in some major beef regions and big concerns for cow-calf operators about concentrated market power in the beef industry.
Total U.S. cattle numbers (beef and dairy of all ages and types) are 91.9 million head as of Jan. 1, down 2%. Looking at cowherds, there are 30.1 million beef cows and 9.3 million dairy cows as of Jan. 1. The additional beef animals produced via crossbreeding on dairy farms is still just a fraction of a much larger beef industry — even as beef cowherd numbers and calf crop decline.
At the same time — contrary to the marketing strategies of elite plant-based globalists — consumers want beef. They want quality beef. And they are looking to source from local farms and small processors or brands.
Anyone who has shopped for beef at the large chain supermarkets in the past two years has found inconsistent availability and poor selection more often than not. A big part of the salable meat is roasts, and if they aren’t inherently tender, people must know how to cook them. Ground beef still reigns, but even that is a crapshoot if you’re shopping at a big box store.
People who taste good beef, will crave good beef, and more people today are starting to realize beef is good for us and the planet — regardless of what the globalists, climate controllers and food police are trying to force-feed us.
The demand for off-farm beef sales has grown to the point where custom slaughter facilities are booked several months to a year in advance. This includes farms that want to process their market dairy cows through voluntary culling, for direct sales to consumers, marketing the circle-of-life concept of beef from dairy. This, along with the concerns about market transparency, is why we hear so much about revitalizing or creating regional infrastructure to expand USDA-inspected small processor capacity and state-inspected custom butchers.
So, what do ‘beef on dairy’ crossbreeding programs look like? This is something land grant universities are following with research on different breed combinations. Sessions about beef on dairy are well-attended at dairy conferences. The bull studs have been marketing beef sire genetics specifically for dairy, and Holstein USA has a program with the studs using an Angus-Simmental crossbred genetic pool showing how it matches up to Holstein.
How beef on dairy happens varies from farm to farm — 30 to 40 years ago, a dairy farmer would breed first-calving heifers to Angus for a smaller calf. Some also doubled as farmer-feeders with a small feedlot or pasture-growing feeder cattle. Back then, one could afford to feed the purebed Holstein steer to Choice grade with cheap corn. They take longer to finish to a high quality grade, especially when backgrounded on pasture for a few months of frame growth.
But then came the boxed beef carcass-size discounts prevalent from 1994 through 2014. Feeding a backgrounded Holstein to grade at higher grain prices became inefficient and very costly. Veal sales also came under pressure. These combined trends made Holstein bull calves almost worthless for many years.
Today’s beef industry is increasing its tolerance for larger carcasses, appreciating the ability to sell more beef pounds per animal to spread fixed costs, as well as improve the ‘carbon footprint’. We don’t hear the ‘too big for the box’ mantra justifying horrendous carcass-size discounts anymore — as long as they grade — because consumers are returning to good beef, just like they are returning to butter and whole milk.
From Angus and Simmental to Charolais and Fleckvieh, there are beef on dairy strategies popping up everywhere. The black hide continues to be important in many markets where cattle are eventually sold to feedlots that sell to packers that utilize the Certified Angus Beef or other similar ‘House’ brands.
Dietary Guidelines created problem
CAB is a USDA-Certified brand that emerged in the 1980s, when the Angus Association decided to do something about the problems USDA created for beef demand when the Department diluted the Choice quality grade to ‘align’ with emerging government Dietary Guidelines.
We are all familiar with what happened to milk, butter and other dairy products since the advent of the anti-fat Dietary Guidelines 40 years ago. It happened in beef too.
In the late 1970s, USDA ‘widened’ the Choice grade to include the upper third of the ‘Good’ grade and renamed the ‘Good’ grade as ‘Select.’ They said they were responding to consumer demand for lean meat, but the name change and dilution appeared to be more of a stealth approach to herding consumers.
We know today this has backfired, but even back then, there was an almost immediate reaction from the higher value restaurant trade. They were getting ‘Choice’ beef that ranged from ‘old’ Choice to ‘new’ Choice, and that spread in marbling scores (intramuscular fat flecks) is huge.
The lack of uniformity and the increase in unfavorable eating experiences were a problem. Those flecks of fat are what give the beef flavor and tenderness. Today, we know the intramuscular fat is not much different from olive oil in its healthfulness, but that’s another story.
By 1980, the Angus breeders had implemented their solution with Certified Angus Beef and marketed it to the unhappy restaurant trade and eventually industrywide.
More than ‘marketing’
Not only do cattle have to have a ‘predominantly’ black hide to qualify for the CAB-premium and brand, they must also grade in the top two-thirds of Choice on marbling score.
In effect, the Angus folks developed a brand that increased favorable eating experiences and brought back more uniformity by requiring the beef carrying the CAB brand to conform to the ‘old’ USDA Choice grading standards as they were before the anti-fat food police intervened.
Since they came up with the plan, of course, the black hide was important as the vehicle for their Angus genetics, and genetic work ensued to trace back and determine the traits (expected progeny differences, EPDs) that consistently delivered higher quality, more uniform beef grown efficiently and at a moderate frame size to fit the emerging ‘boxed beef’ trend.
As CAB took off and premiums were paid for qualifying cattle, almost every breed focused on developing lines with black hides and better marbling scores and moderate frame without the excess exterior fat. Similar ‘house brand’ Angus programs use some of the same criteria, but it was CAB that repudiated the USDA Choice grade change by creating their own certification program – something USDA graders implement at the slaughter plant for a fee.
Because it solved a real quality problem, the fees paid to the graders and the premiums paid for the cattle were absorbed by the market because CAB could differentiate in a watered-down beef industry to a market hungry for those quality and reliability standards. Buyers wanted to know that if it was stamped Choice, it is Choice, the old Choice.
Fast forward to 2020, amid a global pandemic shutdown, supply chain disruptions, consumer concerns about where their food comes from, the growing awareness of the stranglehold four big meat packers have on the entire global beef business, label confusion, plant-based pushing, and the involvement of the Big-4 in future lab-created meats… All of these factors are opening a door that heretofore only a few dairymen pursued.
Today, dairy farms large and small can succeed with beef on dairy strategies.
Selecting what to cross
When selecting sires for beef on dairy to produce feeder calves or fat cattle that are auctioned or sold on a live basis to feedlots or packers, avoiding white on certain parts of the hide is important and a genetic consideration to avoid discounts. This is especially true at today’s rising corn prices because Holsteins are known to need more time on feed to finish, or a hotter diet fed at a younger age. Some Angus and Simmental genetics are designed to diminish occurrence of a white pattern, deemed a tip-off to buyers of cattle for feedlots that are concerned about feed efficiency differences between beef and dairy breeds.
Those crossbreeding with Charolais will find their dairy breeds produce what feedlots view as the desirable ‘smokey’ hide Charolais with muscling that compensates for the angular dairy frame when visually appraised.
But there’s another twist to this tale, in addition to traditional beef breeds, the unique heritage Wagyu is emerging. The genetics of full blood Wagyu are pricey, American Wagyu a bit less so, and F1 Wagyu x Dairy more affordable — relatively speaking.
In fact, in Japan, where the Wagyu breed originated and is a national treasure, the dairy cross is also popular as a more economical version of their most valued signature beef.
Wagyu have some things in common with dairy breeds, especially Holsteins. They take longer to deposit the intramuscular flecks of fat (marbling), but the Wagyu don’t need a high-energy diet to do so, and the way the flecks are deposited is also compatible with dairy breeds.
Wagyu beef has its high-quality flavor and tenderness reputation because of the even distribution of these smaller flecks of fat throughout the lean. Holsteins tend to marble this way also, but the Wagyu is the master on this score.
Prized for what’s ‘inside’
This heritage breed first arrived in the U.S. in the 1970s and went through a resurgence in the 1990s for its quality consistency in a time of dilution and wide variance. You might have seen it on a menu as Kobe beef, so named for a specific region in Japan where the most elite black-hided strain of the Wagyu is raised.
As the Wagyu is making its third come-back now in the U.S., the F1 cross (Wagyu x Holstein) is a ‘thing’ and quite popular among dairy producers in other countries, like Australia.
The caveat with Japanese and American Wagyu is they do not have quite the beefy outward appearance of a traditional European beef breed. Their conformation is described by breeders as dairy-like, more angular — wider in the front than rear, owing to a history of pulling carts in Japan. They are smaller framed and slower growing.
This means using Wagyu in a dairy crossbreeding program is successful when producers market the beef directly to consumers or sell the cattle to buyers who understand what they are buying. They won’t see what Wagyu are prized for by looking at them from the outside in an auction setting. The value is visible on the inside in how the flecks of fat are distributed for flavor and tenderness.
Making a go of it
For Adam Light of Spotlight Holsteins, Myerstown, Pennsylvania, dairy on beef using Wagyu genetics is very much a part of the operation. He and his cousin Ben Light, a landscaper, are partners in Lightning Cattle Company.
Not only did they begin incorporating the Wagyu genetics into the dairy-on-beef strategy at the 220-cow robotic dairy farm Adam purchased from Ralph Moyer in 2020, they made semen available to other dairies for first-dibs on purchasing offspring, and leased bulls to beef cow-calf herds.
Adam Light grew up on a diversified crop, poultry and beef farm. Working for nearby dairy farms as a youth, he developed an interest in dairying and began renting a dairy barn on a farm his father had purchased for cropland. When the time came to move the operation forward, the Moyer farm was on the market. Adam sold his smaller registered tiestall herd to another dairyman now renting his former barn, and purchased Moyer’s larger herd, farm, and robotic facility.
Next week, we’ll talk with Adam and his cousin Ben about Lightning Cattle and the beef-on-dairy business… and eventually about his robotic dairy transition.
‘Climate neutrality, not net zero carbon, should be dairy’s goal.’
By Sherry Bunting
‘Net zero’ seems like a simple term, but it’s loaded, according to Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality specialist with the Department of Animal Science at University of California-Davis.
He firmly believes dairy can be a climate solution, but the first step is to accurately define dairy’s contribution to the climate problem. Setting the record straight is his prime focus, and he also researches ways dairy, like every industry, “can do our bit to improve.”
Presenting on what ‘net zero’ really means for dairies, Mitloehner answered questions during the American Dairy Coalition (ADC) annual business meeting in December, attended by over 150 producers from across the country via webinar.
Based in Wisconsin, ADC is a national producer-driven voice with a regionally diverse board. President Walt Moore, a Chester County, Pennsylvania dairy producer, welcomed virtual meeting attendees, and CEO Laurie Fischer shared a federal dairy policy update.
She said the ADC board is nimble, moves quickly, and wants to hear from fellow dairy farmers. She encouraged membership to make ADC stronger and shared about the organization’s federal policy focus in 2021 — from pandemic disruptions and assistance, Federal Order pricing, depooling and negative PPDs to real dairy label integrity, whole milk choice in schools, and farmers’ questions and concerns about dairy ‘net-zero’ actions.
“Too often, farmers think they may not understand something, so they don’t speak up,” said Fischer. “But we get calls and so much great advice from our farmers. We know you get it, you know it, because it is happening to you.”
From this farmer input, the net-zero topic became the ADC annual meeting focus.
“We are rethinking methane, and this is influencing and shaping the discussion,” Dr. Mitloehner reported. He urged producers to use the information at the CLEAR Center at https://clear.ucdavis.edu/ and to do better networking, to have a better presence on social media.
This is necessary because the activists are well-connected, and methane is the angle they use in their quest to end animal agriculture. He said Twitter is a platform where many of these discussions are happening. His handle there is @GHGGuru and the Center is @UCDavisCLEAR.
“This is something I have told the dairy industry. They say ‘net-zero carbon’, but they shouldn’t say that because it is not possible, and it is not needed. We need to be saying ‘net-zero warming’. That’s the goal. Then, every time you reduce methane, you instantaneously have an impact that is inducing a cooling effect,” said Mitloehner.
‘Climate neutrality’ is the more accurate term he uses to describe the pathways for U.S. dairy and beef. But it requires getting accurate information into policy in a fact-based way.
It requires arming people with the knowledge that the constant and efficient U.S. dairy and livestock herds produce no new methane, that they are climate-neutral because not only is methane continuously destroyed in the atmosphere at a rate roughly equal to what is continuously emitted by cow burps and manure, that process involves a biogenic carbon cycle in which the cow is a key part.
One of the issues is how methane from cattle is measured, he said. Current policy uses a measurement from 30 years ago that fails to acknowledge the carbon cycle and ‘sinks’ alongside the ‘emissions.’
Mitloehner said accurate information is beginning to change the narrative. This is critical because methane is the GHG of concern for dairy, and the narrative about it has been incomplete and inaccurate.
As a more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, methane becomes the ‘easy’ target to achieve the warming limits in the Paris Accord. Methane was the focal point of ‘additional warming limits’ during the UN Climate Change Summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November.
Putting together the inaccurate narrative alongside international agreements to specifically reduce methane, it becomes obvious why cattle are in the crosshairs. Producers are already in the middle of this in California as methane regulation and carbon credit systems began there several years ago.
As the narrative is beginning to change, Mitloehner sees opportunities. He described the current California ‘goldrush’ of renewable natural gas (RNG) projects where large herds both in and out of state cover lagoons to capture and convert biogas into RNG. The state’s investments and renewable fuel standard provide a 10-year guarantee with the RNG companies typically owning the offset credits that can be traded on the California exchange from anywhere.
Getting the numbers right is mission-critical
“We are far and away an outlier because of our efficiency in the U.S with all livestock and feed representing 4% of the GHG total for the U.S,” Mitloehner confirmed. “Dairy, alone, is less than 2% of the U.S. total.”
This is much smaller than the 14.5% figure that is thrown about recklessly. That is a global number that includes non-productive cattle in India as well as the increasing herds in less efficient developing countries. This number also lumps in other things, such as deforestation.
He said the true global percentage of emissions for livestock and manure is 5.8%. Unfortunately, activists and media tend to use the inflated global figure and conflate it with these other things to inaccurately describe the climate impact of U.S. dairy and livestock herds as 14.5%.
The efficiency of U.S. production and the nutrient density of animal foods must be part of the food and climate policy equation.
Methane is not GHG on steroids
“Without greenhouse gases, life on earth would not be possible because it would be too cold here,” said Mitloehner. “We need GHG, but human activity puts too much into the atmosphere, and the toll is large concentrations.”
The way all GHGs are measured has to do with their intensity as determined 30 years ago when scientists wanted one global warming potential (GWP) unit to compare cows to cars to cement production and so forth. They came up with GWP100, which converts methane to CO2 equivalents based on its warming potential.
Methane traps 28 times more heat than CO2, but it is short-lived, Mitloehner explained.
“Looking just at the warming potential, you get this idea that methane is GHG on steroids and that we need to get rid of all of it and all of its sources,” he said.
But is this the end of the methane story? No.
Sinks and cycles must count
Mitloehner described how ‘methane budgets’ look at sources and their emissions but ignore the carbon sinks that go alongside and ignore the chemical reactions that result in atmospheric removal of methane as well.
“Plants need sunlight, water, and a source of carbon. That carbon they need comes from the atmosphere to produce oxygen and carbohydrates,” he said, explaining how cows eat the carbohydrates and convert them to nutrient dense milk and beef. In that process, the rumen produces methane.
“Is this new and additional carbon added to the atmosphere? No it is not. It is recycled carbon,” he said.
“Say you work off the farm. You drive and burn fuel, adding new CO2 in addition to the stock in the atmosphere the day before. Stock gases accumulate because they stay in the environment. Currently, agencies treat methane as if it behaves the same way. But methane is a flow gas, not a stock gas. It is not cumulative,” said Mitloehner.
If the same farm has 1000 cows belching today and 1000 belching 10 years ago, those 1000 cows are not belching new methane because in 10 years it is gone from the atmosphere. It is cyclical.
“The take-home message is the carbon that our constant livestock herds produce is not new carbon in the atmosphere. It is a constant source because similarly to it being produced, it is also destroyed. The destruction part is not finding its way into the public policy system… but it will in the future,” he predicts.
Methane drives Paris Accord and COP26
Methane targets are driving intergovernmental agreements wanting to limit the “additional warming impact” of nations and industries.
Currently, cattle are viewed as global-warmers because they constantly emit methane. However, as Mitloehner drilled numerous times, this is not new methane, it is not additive, it is not cumulative. It is recycled carbon.
“If you have constant livestock herds, like in the U.S., then you are not causing new additional warming,” said Mitloehner.
Burning fossil fuels is much different.
“Fossilized carbon accumulated underground. Over 70 years, we have extracted half of it and burned it, so where is it now? In the atmosphere. We added new and additional CO2 that is not a short-lived gas. It is a one-way street from the ground into the air,” he explained.
The problem for dairy and beef producers is their cattle are being depicted as though their emissions are additive, cumulative, like fossil fuels, which is not true, he said.
Signs the narrative is changing
One promising sign that the message is getting through has come from Oxford researchers acknowledging the constant cattle herds in the U.S. and UK are not adding new warming.
They acknowledge the GWP100 “grossly overestimates” the warming impact of cattle and are working on a new measurement that recognizes constant cattle herds are not adding new warming, said Mitloehner.
Another promising sign is that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a statement recently acknowledging that the current GWP100 overblows the warming impact of cattle by a factor of four. This new information is not in current policy, but it is making its way there.
Tale of two bathtubs
Mitloehner believes it is important to visualize climate neutrality. He described two bathtubs. One has a CO2 faucet with no drain, the other a methane faucet with a drain. Open the faucets, and even at a slow and steady rate, the CO2 bathtub continues to rise, while the methane bathtub drains as it fills to remain at a constant level.
He also explained that over the past 200 years the U.S. hasn’t seen any real change in that methane bathtub because prior to settlement in America, 100 million ruminants — buffalo and other wild herds — roamed. Today, there are around 100 million large ruminants in the U.S. dairy and beef industries.
What has changed is the U.S. does have more liquid manure lagoon storage that is producing more methane than solid manure storage. “But we know of ways to further reduce that,” he said.
Mitloehner pointed out how the current GWP100 poorly estimates the warming impact three example scenarios. If, over 30 years, methane is increased 35% from a source, or reduced 10%, or reduced 35%, the GWP100 would show significant continuous addition of cow-sourced methane in CO2 equivalents for all three scenarios because the destruction of the methane – the drain that operates with the faucet – is ignored.
The proper way to look at this, if the methane increased a lot, is that it would add a lot. But if it is balanced, then there is no new or additional warming. And, in that third scenario, he said, “where we pull a lot from the atmosphere when we reduce methane, it has the same impact as growing a forest.”
Bottom line, said Mitloehner, “We can be a solution and take it to the market and get paid for that,” but current policy does not yet reflect the neutral position of the constant and efficient U.S. herd.
Bullish about the future
‘Net zero’ is a term that is not yet clearly defined, said Dr. Frank Mitloehner several times during the American Dairy Coalition annual meeting by webinar in December. He sees the real goal as “climate neutrality,” to communicate the way constant U.S. dairy herds contribute “no additional warming,” in other words “net zero warming.”
The climate neutrality of U.S. cattle must be part of public policy, he said. Only then will dairies truly be on a path to marketing their reductions as ‘cooling offsets.’
Mitloehner, a University of California animal scientist and GHG expert is bullish about the future of “turning this methane liability into an asset, so if we manage toward reducing this gas, we can take that reduction to the carbon market,” he said.
“When we hear ‘net zero’, we think about carbon, but that would mean no more GHG is being produced, and that is not possible. I have told the dairy industry this for years. Why is (zero GHG) not possible? Because cows always belch, and we can’t offset that, and furthermore, we do not need to offset that because it is not new methane,” said Mitloehner.
On the other hand, “If we replace beef and dairy made in the U.S., this does not create a GHG reduction at all. This is because we are the most productive and efficient in the world,” he said.
Just stopping beef and dairy production here in the U.S. — and picking up the slack by producing it somewhere else or producing something else in its place — creates ‘leakage.’ This leakage, he said, is where the biogenic carbon cycle becomes disrupted. In other words, the bathtub has a faucet that is out of sync with the drain.
California’s RNG ‘goldrush’
Mitloehner touched on the strict California standards that mandate a 40% reduction of methane be achieved by the state by 2030. Again, methane is targeted because of its warming potential per the Paris Accord.
The good news, he said, is California is using incentives to encourage covering manure lagoons to capture a percentage of the biogas bubble so that it doesn’t go into the atmosphere but is trapped beneath the tarp and converted into renewable natural gas (RNG) that can be sold as vehicle fleet fuel to replace diesel.
Because this RNG comes from a captured and converted methane source, it is considered a most carbon-negative fuel in the state’s low-carbon fuel standard.
Those credits equate to $200 per ton of CO2 replaced with a carbon-negative renewable, said Mitloehner.
“This is a huge credit. This is why dairies are flocking to get lagoons covered to trap and convert. These credits are guaranteed for 10 years in California, but the anti-agriculture activists are fuming over them,” said Mitloehner.
Of all California investments made toward achieving the 40% methane reduction goal, dairy has received just 3% of funds, but has achieved 13% of reductions so far.
This “carrot” approach has incentivized the biogas RNG projects assuming $4000 income per cow, making an estimated $1500 to $2000 per cow per year on a 10-year California fuel standard guarantee.
Mitloehner noted that the carbon intensity of the reduction is presently viewed as greater when RNG is used in vehicles vs. generating electricity, but right now there is not enough RNG suitable for vehicle use. He sees the fuel use increasing in the future and explained that dairies anywhere can sell into the California market if they capture biogas and convert it to RNG.
The state’s 10-year guarantee has stimulated companies seeking to invest in RNG projects on large dairy farms, where they then own or share the credits.
Mitloehner answered a few questions from producers about the caveats. If the bottom and top of the lagoon are covered, what happens to the sludge that accumulates? He acknowledged there is no satisfactory answer to that question presently.
Another drawback is the technology only works for larger dairies because smaller lagoons won’t have the same breakeven. Community digester models are emerging as well, he said, but they also use clusters of large farms working together.
Soil carbon sequestration
Mitloehner cited soil carbon sequestration as a way dairy farms of any size can be a solution.
It’s the process by which agriculture and forestry take carbon out of the air via the plant root systems that allow the soil microbes to take it into the soil — unless the soil is disturbed by tilling or it is released through fires. With good forest and grassland management, as well as low- and no-till farming practices, carbon can be sequestered to stay in the ground forever, according to Mitloehner.
“Agriculture and forests are the only two ways to do this,” he said, adding that USDA seeks to incentivize practices that take and keep more of the atmospheric carbon in the soil.
Answering questions from producers, he noted that he has not yet seen a scheme that would incentivize soil carbon sequestration through marketing offsets, but the discussions are heading in that direction.
“Many of the environmental justice communities are running wild on this. They do not want farmers to get any money for it. They are putting on significant pressure and threatening lawsuits, so it’s not settled yet,” he reported.
There is also a lot of confusion around soil carbon sequestration and “regenerative” agriculture. One big problem is that producers who are doing some of these things, already, won’t get the opportunity to capitalize on those practices when offset protocols are eventually developed — if those practices are not deemed “additive.”
“If you are doing something now and are not covered by a policy of financial incentive, then four years from now, if it is developed, they’ll say you don’t qualify because you are already doing it,” said Mitloehner.
“They are calling it ‘additionality.’ It’s about the change to doing it to qualify. That seems crazy, but it’s like if you bought an electric vehicle 10 years ago when there was no tax credit, you don’t get a tax credit now for already owning an EV because the improvement is not ‘additional,’” he explained.
What about the burps?
For farms with under 1000 cows, other technologies like feed additives can be used on any size dairy with effects realized within a week, said Mitloehner, noting one product that is commercially available and several others on the docket.
If a 10 to 15% reduction can be achieved in enteric (belching) methane reduction, then it will be marketable. Right now, these reductions are not marketable. If an offset protocol is developed for this in the future, it will be taken to the carbon market, he said.
In the meantime, incentives are being offered within supply chains, according to Mitloehner. Companies like Nestle, Starbucks and others are doing pilot projects and buying feed additives for the farmers within their supply chains to reduce their products’ GHG. He said there is some evidence these products can enhance components and feed efficiency. This is a big area of research right now.
A question was also asked during the webinar, wondering about Amish farms using horses instead of tractors. Are they contributing to cooling?
Mitloehner replied that he has not yet seen a calculation for this, and while the impact of horses would be less than the impact of burning fossil fuels, there is still an environmental impact to calculate.
Since the international focus is on ‘additional warming impact’, methane is – like it or not — the target. Whether a dairy farm is managed conventionally or in the Amish tradition, the cows, the methane, and how governments and industry measure the ‘additional warming impact’ of cow-sourced methane, is still the crux of the issue for all dairy farms. If efficiency is reduced, then the ability to position the dairy farm as ‘cooling’ may be more complicated, or less significant, he said.
In addition to accurate definitions that acknowledge climate neutrality of constant cattle herds producing no new methane, Mitloehner’s wish is for federal policy to also take productivity (and nutrient density) into stronger consideration when evaluating emission intensity “instead of just counting heads of cattle.
“This can be good for large or small dairies with a high or low footprint. When the relative emissions are determined by how you manage the dairy, the hope is that this is more about the how than the cow.”
MADISON, Wis. – A new and different – essentially vigorous — paradigm in milk marketing and promotion was the focus of an American Dairy Coalition discussion in Madison on Sept. 30th during the 54th World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin.
Bill Gutrich, senior director of food industry engagement-USA with Elanco Animal Health shared his insights and experience having spent his career in the consumer-packaged goods sector for global brands like Coca Cola, McDonalds and Samsung before coming into animal agriculture three years ago.
“We have a great product and producers do a great job, but we need to increase domestic dairy consumption, specifically,” said Gutrich to an in-person audience of over 50 people (flowing in and out of the Monona Room of the WDE Exhibition Hall). Another 30 people attending virtually online.
The ADC event attracted dairy producer thought leaders from east to west and generated follow up discussion and good questions. ADC CEO Laurie Fischer said the discussion is a starting point and hopes to see allied industries that are committed to animal agriculture join in on the bandwagon to shift the milk message, the animal protein message, in the face of the accelerated barrage of new plant-based and lab-grown lookalikes.
“We need a group such as yourselves to help us move forward,” said Fischer. “We are in this together.”
One statistic Gutrich shared that was quite revealing is that 51% of total sales in the milk section are fluid milk, but only 33% of the retail milk space is devoted to milk. On the other hand, he said, 9% of total sales in the milk section are plant-based non-dairy alternatives, but almost twice the space — 17% of the milk space is devoted to non-dairy alternatives because there are so many varieties.
With so many different brands and variations of non-dairy alternative products coming onto the market and ramping up rapidly, this supply chain effort is essentially crowding out real milk in a manner that is not consistent with true consumer demand.
Likewise, the anti-animal activists are small in number but loud in advocacy. In effect, the gap between perception and reality on messaging as well as shelf-space vs. sales is that smaller sales, smaller numbers flood milk’s space and take positive attention away from milk, but this is not necessarily by consumer choice.
If Gutrich had a magic wand, he’d likely look to make milk competitive in the total beverage market, to reframe the competition and look at milk’s share of all drinks instead of share of the milk aisle. For example, consumers love cold whole milk, so if the message puts that first, then already it is connecting with the most loyal sets of consumers and connecting to their ‘why’ to build growth from that solid point.
When innovation focuses mostly on sustainability, then fewer resources are devoted to getting the message right in connecting with what consumers want.
Gutrich’s insights and discussion are consistent with his role with Elanco engaging the food industry and connecting the food chain. He talks to companies and purveyors, and from those conversations, it’s clear, he said, the people attacking animal agriculture are from the outside, pushing in. They don’t want animal ag to exist, but these are not the people we need to connect with to build loyalty to animal protein.
As the son of a police officer, Gutrich said his personal mission is to elevate the level of respect people have for farmers, much like the efforts elevating respect for our country’s veterans and law enforcement.
He said it comes down to “inspiring consumer loyalty to animal protein.”
Having worked around talented marketers outside of animal agriculture, Gutrich said he has come into the animal protein sector seeing “how we market our beautiful, incredible products to consumers.
“Every dollar starts in the hand of a consumer over the counter,” he said, describing how good marketing starts with the ‘why’, not the ‘what’ and the ‘how.’
“What are the emotional needs you need to connect with?” he wondered aloud. “They will buy the why.”
Using a borrowed analogy of the Craftsman drill, he said the ‘what’ is the buyer wants a hole. The ‘how’ is the drill. But the ‘why’ is they want to do it themselves.
The ‘why’ is what wins customer loyalty and offers the potential for a premium, Gutrich explained, noting that the key is to identify the ‘why’ and attribute it, and then “own it. That’s what great brands do.”
For Starbucks, the ‘why’ is the whole coffee-drinking experience. For Mountain Dew it is the ‘energy.’
In the dairy sector, Gutrich gave the example of Sargento Cheese, where the ‘why’ is ‘The Real Cheese People.’
“What did Kraft do?” he asked. “They labeled their cheese ‘made without hormones.’ What does that have to do with my ‘why’?”
These types of labels introduce something scary to consumers, and it has been proven in surveys and market research that these claims have little to do with their ‘why.’
“What this actually does is undermine their trust in the brand and the category,” said Gutrich, “and in the long run it’s bad for both. People want to think about serving a rich protein food, and we’re talking to them about hormones.”
Good marketing talks about consumers. Bad marketing talks about products and processes, according to Gutrich.
“Loyalty is a feeling,” he said, explaining a successful strategy communicates with consumers about the why, not so much about the process, the sustainability. Yes, sustainability and processes need to be handled, but that’s not connecting with consumers on an emotional level about their ‘why.’
“Own your consumer’s ‘why’, don’t let your critics determine your ‘why,’” he said. “All great brands have critics, but they handle the criticism separately, and keep marketing to why people love them.”
Gutrich gave some vivid emotional-connection examples: “Don’t you love how butter melts on your raisin toast or your cold milk on your cereal?”
In another non-ag example, he showed how Michelin tires own the safety-why, Goodyear owns performance. They keep their whole message consistently on their consumers’ ‘why.’
“Protein is hot,” said Gutrich. “Why aren’t we owning protein?”
The peanut butter brands own protein, and people believe peanut butter to be higher in protein than it is.
“We own protein,” said Gutrich about animal agriculture. “But instead of owning it, we create confusing talking points about the ‘whats’ and the ‘hows’ instead of owning the ‘whys.’”
Gutrich noted that supermarket scanner data show how consumers vote with their dollars, but when producers are told that they must ‘own’ sustainability because 85% of consumers want to see it and want to prioritize climate impact in their food choices, the question becomes, how were those questions asked?
When consumers are questioned with an ‘aided awareness’ style of questioning, of course they will say yes. But that percentage drops to 9% when the question does not include ‘aided awareness.’
Among consumers under 23, the Generation Z, Gutrich shared surveys showing this generation to have a higher overall level of brand loyalty (68%) compared with millennials (40%).
“There’s hope,” said Gutrich.
On fluid milk sales, specifically, he observed the well-known saga of sales decline over time, and the steep decline since 2000, but he has a different perspective on it.
“The dairy industry did this to themselves with over 10 years of ‘buy my milk with no hormones,’” he said. “Instead of focusing on your consumer’s ‘why’, the industry opened this chasm of 13% for milk alternatives to climb in.”
He analyzed domestic consumption figures from 1950 to the present, noting that domestic consumption is the issue, and it’s where the focus most likely should be. When domestic consumption growth is put beside U.S. population growth, the sales growth ultimately shows that dairy has “lost its share of stomach.” This is looking at domestic data only, excluding export sales.
“Ultimately, this means we have work to do,” said Gutrich. “How do we get back to the 1950s?”
Well, there’s no time-machine; however, he had a positive message about this, stressing that the non-dairy alternatives “are not going to take us down. Milk is in almost 95% of households. Let’s worry about our own sales growth and not worry about the alternatives.”
Breaking out the percentages, Gutrich showed that 94% of households include milk, 42% have both milk and alternatives, 3% are exclusively plant-based, and 52% are exclusively milk.
A successful brand would look at that breakdown and say: “We want to grow our loyal customers and go after the people that are closer to the ones that love milk. We want to remind them why they love milk so much.”
But instead, there are all of these triggers in the way and all of these other conversations that move the message away from the consumer’s ‘why,’ – away from the ‘why’ of the loyal or closest to loyal consumers fluid milk can build from.
“If we can continue to do better on these triggers like animal welfare, environment, carbon footprint, that’s fine, but we make it worse by talking a lot about it,” he said. “Get the marketing right. It’s about balance. The packaging dynamics are also amazingly important.”
UPDATE: The comment period at the Federal Register has been extended an additional 30 days to December 2, 2021
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshineseries
WASHINGTON, D.C. — How should ‘cell cultured meats’ be labeled? That’s a loaded question considering how many unknowns surround the commercial production of these lab-grown lookalikes — starting with what are they, really?
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced a 60-day comment period as part of its advance notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register Friday, Sept. 3. The agency seeks “specific types of comments and information that will inform the process of developing labeling regulations for meat and poultry products made using animal cell culture technology.”
Comments are now due by Dec. 2, 2021 and must reference Docket FSIS-2020-0036.
They can be submitted directly here or by going online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal at https://www.regulations.gov and following the on-line instructions; or mail comments to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Mailstop 3768, Washington DC 20250-3700.
In a press release, FSIS officials said ‘cell culture meat’ is a terminology the federal agencies use internally, but this is not necessarily the nomenclature to be used in consumer product labeling.
The actual Federal Register notice is lengthy, explaining that the labels for cell culture products fall under FSIS jurisdiction and “will be subject to premarket review under the same process as other special statements or claims. This will ensure that labeling for products developed using cell culture technology are not false or misleading, that labeling requirements are applied consistently as these novel products enter the marketplace, and that the label provides the necessary product information for consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.”
To-date, FSIS has already provided for a “generic approval” of labeling features, statements, and claims based on “demonstrated prevalent industry understanding of the effective application of those features, statements, or claims and consumer understanding of labeling statements.”
However, the document also notes that there is currently “no widespread industry understanding of the labeling requirements for cell cultured meat and poultry products” and that “consumers have not yet had experience reading these types of labels.”
Furthermore, FSIS will have to determine a process for approving additional claims on the labels of these new and combined products.
The docket language suggests that FSIS already considers these proteins analogous as derivatives of the animals from which the original cells are sourced. But are they? Even scientists debate this assumption.
As billionaire-invested startups have joint-ventured with some of the world’s largest food processing companies, much money is being thrown at certain technology hurdles to avoid having to explain the unsavory aspects of the cell culture process to the public — as these lab-grown un-natural proteins inch their way closer to commercial market entry, especially on boneless products like ground beef and chicken tenders and patties.
The label rulemaking step comes two years after the FDA and USDA entered into a joint agreement to each take responsibility for different halves of the ‘cell culture’ process.
The March 2019 agreement came after a summer 2018 public meeting previously reported in Farmshine, for which thousands of comments and two petitions have been logged.
In 2018, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) filed a petition requesting that FSIS limit the definition of ‘‘beef’’ to products derived from cattle born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner, and thereby prohibit foods comprised of or containing cultured animal cells from being labeled as ‘‘beef.’’ The petition similarly requested the same for the definition of “meat” and other common meat terms on labels.
In 2020, FSIS received a petition from the Harvard Law School Animal Law and Policy Clinic requesting adoption of a labeling approach that “respects First Amendment commercial speech protections” and specifically establishes “a labeling approach that does not require new standards of identity and does not ban the use of common or usual meat or poultry terms.”
This came after over 6000 comments were received on the U.S. Cattlemen’s petition.
In the current rulemaking docket, FSIS states that the comments came from trade associations, consumer advocacy groups, businesses operating in the meat, poultry, and cultured food product markets, and consumers with “most comments opposing the (cattlemen’s) petition overall; however, nearly all generally agreed that cultured meat and beef should be labeled in a manner that indicates how it was produced and differentiates it from slaughtered meat products.”
To some, that kind of interpretation would mean ‘cultured beef without the cow’; to others a better definition would be ‘un-natural beef grown from gene-edited, growth-hormone-promoted laboratory cell cultures.’
Here’s the problem. The lengthy Federal Register docket does very little to explain the real process by which cell cultured un-natural protein is designed and grown before it is harvested, processed and packaged.
The docket includes a description of ‘cell culture’ meat and poultry that fails to specify any of the characteristics, even those that are being questioned by experts in science journals – things that consumers should know and understand via crystal-clear differentiation.
For example, cell culture fake-meat comes from stem cells that are identified and separated from muscle tissue of cattle, pigs, poultry and certain fish. New “continuous cell lines” are being developed from these stem cells using “transformation” processes (gene editing) to make them “immortal.”
In other words, cells normally have a finite end to their growth, but continuous cell lines — under the right controlled environments — are ‘designed’ to keep dividing and growing, continuously, like a malignancy, without an end point.
Also, the ‘growth medium’ for these ‘cell cultures’ contains Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS), growth promoting hormones, and, when needed, antibiotics and fungicides. The controlled environment provides the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide akin to animal respiration, and the temperature must be warmed constantly to be the internal temperature of the bovine to keep the cells from dying. At a certain juncture in the process, the growing cells must be ‘fed’ amino acids and carbohydrates.
Reviews of chemical replacements for Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS) are mixed. Some showed the continuation of cell growth was not consistent. Others showed changes happened within the cells when the growth medium included artificial replacements for the FBS. Portions of the veterinary and medical industries also rely on FBS for culturing, and some reports indicate increased importation of FBS, already, for those uses.
Any label claims about nutrition, environmental footprint, possible changes to the actual cells due to the composition of the growth medium, and so forth, are all based on smaller-scale laboratory observation and scale speculation, while consumers have literally zero understanding of the process, and some scientists even question whether the nutrition profiles, taste and texture are similar enough to meet consumer expectations for real meat and poultry.
These are standards of identity issues.
Here’s the other key issue for USDA’s rulemaking on ‘cell cultured meat’ labeling… USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) only regulates the back half of the equation. In March 2019, the agreement between USDA and FDA was to “jointly oversee the production of human food products made using animal cell culture technology and derived from the cells of livestock and poultry to ensure that such products brought to market are safe, unadulterated and truthfully labeled.”
Specifically, this agreement delegates the oversight of cell collection, growth and differentiation to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Then, at the stage of “harvest” FDA transfers oversight to USDA’s FSIS, which oversees the cell harvest, processing, packaging and labeling of the products.
According to the FSIS rulemaking notice, the agency believes its current food safety and HACCP systems for real meat and poultry are already “sufficient” to be “immediately applied” to the harvest, processing and packaging of these lab-grown lookalikes and that they are only looking at this final labeling piece. This gives us a clue where the labeling is headed.
Specifically, FSIS seeks comments and information from stakeholders over the next 60 days regarding these key areas of the labeling process:
— Consumer expectations about the labeling of these products, especially in light of the nutritional composition and organoleptic qualities (taste, color, odor, or texture) of the products;
— Names for these products that would be neither false nor misleading;
— Economic data; and
— Any consumer research related to labeling nomenclature for products made using animal cell culture technology.
It will be difficult for true consumer advocacy groups (not meat and poultry industry trade groups who are mostly on board for the mix-and-match) to fully consider their views on the above questions. This is further blurred by the oversimplified FSIS description of the cell culture process that does not include any reference to specific characteristics.
For example, the definition does not mention hormones as inputs, it mentions ‘growth factors’. It doesn’t talk about continuously dividing cell lines, but rather ‘creating food’.
In another section, it doesn’t mention FBS, hormones, antibiotics as inputs but rather simply states: “cells are retrieved and placed in a controlled environment with appropriate nutrients and ‘other factors to support growth’ and cellular multiplication. After the cells have multiplied, ‘additional inputs such as growth factors,’ new surfaces for cell attachment, and additional nutrients are added to the controlled environment to enable the cells to differentiate into various cell types.”
The use of innocent code words belie the specifics.
Of course, states FSIS about the process: “Once produced, the harvested cells can be processed, packaged, and marketed in the same, or similar, manner as slaughtered meat and poultry products.”
Nowhere in this description does it mention the gene editing of the cells to get them to transform for continuous multiplication and growth, nor what evidence exists that consuming such cells is safe. Consumers will want to know what they might be consuming once the world’s largest meat processors begin to use cultured cells as real meat extenders, diluters and substitutes.
Nowhere in this description does it mention the hormones and growth promotants that are the necessary “growth factor inputs” because the cells are growing on their own without the animal’s body, designed by God, to provide the natural hormones for natural growth with natural end points.
Nowhere in this description does the docket mention other clear differences between ‘cell cultured’ un-natural protein vs. real natural meat and poultry. The description suggests they are ‘designer’ derivatives of the real thing, opening the door to claims of being more efficient with less environmental impact. Based on what? A reduction in cattle and other livestock numbers?
Like we’ve seen in dairy with plant-based fakes and lack of standards enforcement by FDA, these ‘novel’ products will get to do the more-than / less-than comparative marketing off the real natural standard while consumers assume all other aspects are equal – when clearly they are not.
Scientific journals such as Frontiers in Nutrition have published scholarly articles pointing out the speculation involved in what this process will look like at commercial scale and what impact it will have on the nutrient characteristics, especially micronutrients like iron and B12, that come from the animal’s interaction with its natural environment. (Even the scaffolds the cells grow on will have methods for stretching cell blobs to simulate movement.)
Some scholarly articles point out that even the environmental claims are suspect because land and water use comparisons for cattle are predominantly what is used in feed production. The lab-grown cell cultures will also have to be “fed”. But they won’t spend part of their ‘lifecycle’ grooming carbon-sequestering grasslands or contributing to planet health in the biogenic carbon cycle.
Furthermore, writes one scientist, the warming required for these cell cultures to grow in bioreactors also create CO2 emissions that are long-lived — potentially adding to the buildup of long-term GHG, whereas the methane emitted from real cattle is short-lived and in fact stable and declining when viewed on a total nutrients per animal basis vs. history. This means, what is seen as a reduction in CO2 equivalents for methane based on the short-term heat-trapping side could be more than lost on the long-term CO2 buildup side, a tough fix down the road.
The problem with climate and environmental label claims is that they are based on speculation about unknowns for un-natural cell culture proteins and are compared to only part of the real story about real natural livestock.
All of these unanswered questions should be part of any USDA FSIS rulemaking process on labeling. These proteins should be labeled as ‘experimental’ and ‘un-natural’ until processes are widely known and understood by scientists, agencies, industry and consumers.
In the Sept. 2 press release, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, Sandra Eskin, states that, “The (proposed rulemaking) is an important step forward in ensuring the appropriate labeling of meat and poultry products made using animal cell culture technology. We want to hear from stakeholders and will consider their comments as we work on a proposed regulation for labeling these products.”
Perhaps what USDA needs to hear from commenters over the next 60 days is that there is not enough public information about how these un-natural proteins are sourced, grown, and gene-edited — or their true nutritional and environmental profiles — to call them beef or meat with a simple qualifying statement few will truly understand.
Proponents of labeling cell culture proteins as meat because the cells are derivative are already whining to FSIS about how new labeling procedures or standards of identity would “stifle innovation.”
Individuals, businesses and organizations should be standing up for the consumer’s right to know what they are consuming and what production processes they are supporting – un-natural cell factories or natural meat raised by farmers and ranchers. There are also consumer health and nutrition questions on the FDA front end that the labeling needs to address accurately on the FSIS back end.
Just because the initial cells come from a cow or a chicken or a pig, doesn’t mean the un-natural ‘culturing’ process and resulting blobs of cells, once consumed, will behave in our bodies like — or contain the same properties as — natural muscle meat from a cow or a chicken or a pig.
Processors will be able to swap a percentage of this for that and barely change their labels if new standards or full descriptions are not used.
Labeling should not give the appearance that this is simply meat without the animal. Some would argue this is Frankenfood. Some would argue this is experimental protein that should have to go through rigorous safety tests on the long-term impacts to health and nutrition. But the climate urgency of the United Nations Food Summit this month is already alluding to fast-tracking these “innovations”, applauding Singapore and China for moving forward most aggressively… to save the planet of course.
Perhaps the question to ask is this: How will labeling clearly differentiate so consumers have a clear choice and farmers and ranchers have a real chance…
The dairy industry is facing this music on its own score with the FDA currently evaluating standards of identity for milk and dairy and looking at the new bovine DNA-altered yeast/fungi/bacteria excrement posing as dairy protein analogs without the cow. Through a process that is in some ways different and in other ways similar to cell culture proteins, the bioengineered yeast excrements are being called “designer proteins from precision fermentation.”
The latest marketing twist is to say the bioengineered yeast are “10 to 20 times more efficient feed converters than cows.” These proteins are already being marketed to global processors of dairy foods as ‘stretchers’ and ‘functional’ ingredients, even as ‘carbon footprint enhancers.’
The economic concern for producers on both counts – meat and dairy – is dilution of their products and captive supply price-control of their ‘markets’.
The concern for consumers is the long-term healthfulness and safety of these ingredients and the increased potential for global food control in the hands of a few, with China already figuring prominently in the protein concentration manufacturing industry, globally.
This labeling discussion is too important to ignore, too important to allow oversimplification. Some in the industry say we must encourage and work beside these new forms of food production to end hunger, control climate change and feed everyone in the future. But the foundation premises of these beliefs are not settled science.
The simple play here, by the tech sector to align and dominate the food industry, is to position these un-natural proteins as helpful analogs grown or cultured or fermented without the animals, that these products are needed to supplement animal-sources and reduce environmental impact of livestock, that climate change urgency requires regulatory fast-tracking, and that simple process-qualifiers on a label will differentiate it while making it palatable to consumers.
Will consumers be led to believe these “innovations” are in all other ways the same as the real thing… when in fact they are not?
The cover story of a recent Junior Scholastic Weekly Reader — the social studies magazine for elementary school students — was dated for school distribution May 11, 2021, the same week USDA approved a Child Nutrition Label for Impossible Burger and released its Impossible Kids Rule report. This label approval now allows the fake burger to be served in place of ground beef in school meals and be eligible for taxpayer-funded reimbursement. Meanwhile, Scholastic Weekly Reader and other school ‘curricula’ pave the marketing runway with stories incorrectly deeming cows as water-pigs, land-hogs, and huge greenhouse gas emitters, without giving the context of true environmental science.
Is USDA complicit? Or ring-leader? One Senator objects
By Sherry Bunting
WASHINGTON – It’s appalling. Bad enough that the brand of fake meat that has set a goal to end animal agriculture has been approved for school menus, fake facts (brand marketing) about cows and climate are making their way to school curriculum as well. The new climate-brand edu-marketing, and USDA has joined the show.
“Schools not only play a role in shaping children’s dietary patterns, they play an important role in providing early education about climate change and its root causes,” said Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown in a May 11 statement after Impossible Meats received the coveted USDA Child Nutrition Label. “We are thrilled to be partnering with K-12 school districts across the country to lower barriers to access our plant-based meat for this change-making generation.”
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who was born and raised on a rural Iowa family farm, has called on U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to ensure students will continue to have access to healthy meat options at schools. The Senator’s letter to the Secretary asked that USDA keep political statements disincentivizing meat consumption out of our taxpayer-funded school nutrition programs.
Food transformation efforts are ramping up. These are political statements where cows and climate are concerned, not backed by science, but rather marketing campaigns to sell billionaire-invested fake foods designed to replace animals. (World Wildlife Fund, the dairy and beef checkoff sustainability partner, figures into this quite prominently.)
As previously reported in Farmshine, Impossible Foods announced on May 11 that it had secured the coveted Child Nutrition Label (CN Label) from the USDA. The food crediting statements provide federal meal guidance to schools across the country. The CN label also makes this imitation meat eligible for national school lunch funding.
“This represents a milestone for entering the K-12 market,” the CEO Brown stated, adding that the use of their fake-burger in schools could translate to “huge environmental savings.” (actually, it’s more accurate to say it will translate to huge cash in billionaire investor pockets.)
Concerned about ‘political statements’ made by USDA and others surrounding the CN label approval — along with past USDA activity on ‘Meatless Mondays’ initiated by Vilsack’s USDA during the Obama-Biden administration — Sen. Ernst wrote in her letter to now-again current Sec. Vilsack: “School nutrition programs should be exempt from political statements dictating students’ dietary options. Programs like ‘Meatless Monday’ and other efforts to undermine meat as a healthy, safe and environmentally responsible choice hurt our agriculture industry and impact the families, farmers, and ranchers of rural states that feed our nation.”
No public information has been found on how Impossible Foods may or may not have altered its fake-burger for school use. My request for a copy of the Child Nutrition Label from USDA AMS Food Nutrition Services, which granted the label, were met with resistance.
Here is the response to my request from USDA AMS FNS: “This office is responsible for the approval of the CN logo on product packaging. In general, the CN labeling office does not provide copies of product labels. This office usually suggests you contact the manufacturer directly for more information.”
I reached out to Impossible for a copy of the nutrition details for the school product. No response.
It’s obvious the commercial label for Impossible is light years away from meeting three big ‘nutrition’ items regulated by USDA AMS FNS. They are: Saturated Fat, Sodium, and Calories.
As it stands now, the nutrition label at Impossible Foods’ website shows that a 4-oz Impossible Burger contains 8 grams of saturated fat. That’s 3 more grams than an 8-oz cup of Whole Milk, which is forbidden in schools because of its saturated fat content. The Impossible Burger also has more saturated fat than an 85/15 lean/fat 4-oz All Beef Burger (7g).
Sodium of Impossible Burger’s 4-oz patty is 370mg! This compares to an All Beef at 75g and a McDonald’s Quarter-pounder (with condiments) at 210 mg. Whole Milk has 120 mg sodium and is banned from schools.
The Impossible Burger 4-oz. patty also has more calories than an All Beef patty and more calories than an 8 ounce cup of Whole Milk. But there’s the ticket. USDA is hung up on percent of calories from fat. If the meal is predominantly Impossible Burger, then the saturated fat (more grams) become a smaller percent of total calories when the fake burger has way more calories! Clever.
In her letter to Vilsack, Sen. Ernst observes that, “Animal proteins ensure students have a healthy diet that allows them to develop and perform their best in school. Real meat, eggs, and dairy are the best natural sources of high quality, complete protein according to Dr. Ruth MacDonald, chair of the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition at Iowa State University. Meat, eggs, and dairy provide essential amino acids that are simply not present in plants. They are also natural sources of Vitamin B12, which promotes brain development in children, and zinc, which helps the immune system function properly.”
She’s right. A recent Duke University study goes behind the curtain to show the real nutritional comparisons, the fake stuff is not at all nutritionally equivalent. But USDA will allow our kids to continue to be guinea pigs.
In May, Ernst introduced legislation — called the TASTEE Act — that would prohibit federal agencies from establishing policies that ban serving meat. She’s looking ahead. Sen. Ernst is unfortunately the only sponsor for this under-reported legislation to-date.
Meanwhile, within days of the Impossible CN approval from USDA, school foodservice directors reported being bombarded with messaging from the school nutrition organizations and foodservice companies, especially the big one — Sodexo — urging methods and recipes to reduce their meal-serving carbon footprint by using less beef for environmental reasons, and to begin incorporating the approved Impossible.
The Junior Scholastic Weekly Reader for public school students across the nation — dated May 11, the same day as the USDA CN Label approval for ‘Impossible Burger’ — ran a cover story headlined “This burger could help the planet” followed by these words in smaller type: “Producing beef takes a serious toll on the environment. Could growing meat in a lab be part of the solution?”
The story inside the May 11 scholastic magazine began with the title: “This meat could save the planet” and was illustrated with what looked like a package of ground beef, emblazoned with the words: “Fake Meat.”
Impossible Foods is blunt. They say they are targeting children with school-system science and social studies (marketing disguised as curriculum) — calling the climate knowledge of kids “the missing piece.”
In the company’s “Impossible Kids Rule” report, they identify kids as the target consumer for their products, and how to get them to give up real meat and dairy.
Toward the end of the report is this excerpt:“THE MISSING PIECE: While most kids are aware of climate change, care about the issues, and feel empowered to do something about it, many aren’t fully aware of the key factors contributing to it. In one study, 84% of the surveyed young people agreed they needed more information to prevent climate change. Of the 1,200 kids we surveyed, most are used to eating meat every week—99% of kids eat animal meat at least once a month, and 97% eat meat at least once a week. Without understanding the connection between animal agriculture and climate change, it’s easy to see why there has been so little action historically on their parts. Kids are unlikely to identify animal agriculture as a key climate threat because they often don’t know that it is. Similar to adults, when we asked kids what factors they thought contributed to climate change, raising animals for meat and dairy was at the bottom by nearly 30 points.“
After showing the impressionable children Impossible marketing, they saw a big change in those “awareness” percentages and noted that teachers and schools would be the largest influencers to bring “planet and plate” together in the minds of children, concluding the report with these words:
“When kids are educated on the connection between plate and planet and presented with a delicious solution, they’re ready to make a change. And adults might just follow their lead,”the Impossible Kids Rule report said.
USDA is right with them, piloting Impossible Burger at five large schools using the Impossible brand name to replace ground beef with fake meat in spaghetti sauce, tacos and other highlighted meals. This allows brand marketing associated with the name — free advertising to the next generation disguised as “climate friendly” options with marketing messages cleverly disguised as “education.”
In the New York City school system, one of the pilot schools for Impossible, new guidelines are currently being developed to climate-document foods and beverages served in the schools.
Impossible doesn’t have a dairy product yet, but the company says it is working on them.
Impossible’s competitor Beyond Meat is also working on plant-based protein beverages with PepsiCo in the PLANeT Partnership the two companies forged in January 2021. PepsiCo is the largest consumer packaged goods company globally and has its own K-12 Foodservice company distributing “USDA-compliant” beverages, meals and snacks for schools.
How can this brand-marketing in school meals be legal? Dairy farmers pay millions to be in the schools with programs like FUTP60 and are not allowed to “market”. In fact, dairy checkoff leaders recently admitted they have a 12-year “commitment” to USDA to “advance” the low-fat / fat-free Dietary Guidelines in schools, top to bottom, not just the dairy portion.
Pepsico has a long history of meal and beverage brand-linking in schools. Working with Beyond, they will assuredly be next on the Child Nutrition alternative protein label to hit our kids’ USDA-controlled meals.
Like many things that have been evolving incrementally — now kicking into warp speed ahead of the September 2021 United Nations Food System Transformation Summit — the taxpayer-funded school lunch program administrated by USDA is a huge gateway for these companies. Ultimately, will parents and children know what is being consumed or offered? Who will choose? Who will balance the ‘edu-marketing’? Will school boards and foodservice directors eventually even have a choice as huge global companies mix and match proteins and market meal kits that are guaranteed to be USDA-compliant… for climate?
GORDONVILLE, Pa. – “Beef it’s what’s for dinner.” Remember that line?
For school kids, it could soon be Impossible Meat for lunch. USDA just approved a nutrition label for K-12 schools to substitute beef with the billionaire-invested Impossible Meat. Never mind that a May 2020 Newsweek article reported Beyond Meat, Impossible Meat and their competitors source most of their concentrated pea- and soy-protein from extrusion factories in China, even if the crops were grown in North America.
School foodservice directors report a barrage of supply-chain influencers touting fake meat meal options to reduce carbon emissions on the heels of the USDA nutrition label approval.
A local restaurant discovered last month that their wholesale food vendor added textured vegetable protein (concentrated soy and other additives) to the wholesale ‘Classic Beef Burger’ without warning. It is apparently part of a ‘cutting edge’ menu remake at the wholesale level – not the restaurant’s choice. (This particular restaurant switched promptly to Certified Angus burgers guaranteed to remain 100% beef).
Children came home from school this week with Junior Scholastics declaring “This meat could help save the planet!” accompanied by a photo of fake-beef in grocery packaging.
These are just a few examples in the past three weeks of how rapidly the wheels set in motion a decade ago are hitting the pavement.
How did we get here? For 12 to 13 years, the World Economic Forum (WEF), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Big Food, Big Tech and Big Ag have been coalescing around this idea of supply-chain “sustainability” leverage to steer global food transformation with cattle clearly in the crosshairs – especially for developed nations in Europe as well as the United States.
By partnering officially and unofficially with national dairy and beef checkoff boards on “precompetitive sustainability and innovation”, for example, WWF has — in effect — been channeling government-mandated producer checkoff dollars toward implementing WWF’s supply-chain strategy for impacting commodities WWF believes need intervention to improve biodiversity, water and climate. The global corporations behind ‘food transformation’ are laughing all the way to the bank while grassroots producers essentially fund their own demise.
In the 44-page 2012 paper “Better Production for a Living Planet,” the WWF Market Transformation Initiative identified dairy and beef as two of the prime commodities they target through supply-chain companies controlling 70% of food choices.
The checkoff-funded sustainability materials coming out of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Board and Dairy Management Inc (DMI) show firsthand this relationship with WWF, by the use of the WWF logo, and in the case of dairy, the acknowledgment that a decade-long memorandum of understanding existed.
Add to this the government policies emerging that align directly with this global food, agriculture and land transformation, and the use of the vehicle of checkoff-funded “government speech,” becomes a bit clearer. It’s a clever way to leverage the supply chain and promote a message to consumers while pushing producers to align.
The WWF 2012 paper explains that in 2010, “WWF convened some of the biggest players in the beef industry to form the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB). They included the world’s biggest beef buyer, McDonald’s; the biggest beef retailer, Walmart; and two of the largest beef traders, JBS and Cargill.”
While dairy and beef checkoff programs use government-mandated funds collected from producers for valuable local and state promotion programs linking producers to consumers, it is the direction of national checkoff programs – engaged with WWF and the largest processors and retailers in this way — that has producers like Karina Jones, a fifth generation Nebraska cattlewoman concerned.
Marty Irby of OCM talked about the OFF Act, which is bipartisan legislation seeking to amend the checkoff laws to reaffirm that these programs may not contract with organizations that engage in policy advocacy, conflicts of interest, or anticompetitive activities. It would require publication of all budgets and disbursement of funds for the purpose of public inspection and submit to periodic audits by the USDA Inspector General.
“It’s not about taking those promotion dollars away, but to have a just system of checks and balances,” said Irby about the proposed legislation.
But others are taking a grassroots vote approach — concerned about government oversight of what is already determined to be ‘government speech’ funded by producer checkoff.
Jones talked at the barn meeting about the massive effort to gather over 100,000 signatures by July 2021 asking USDA to conduct a nationwide Beef Checkoff Referendum. A vote on the beef checkoff has not been conducted in 35 years. (See checkoffvote.com and the paper insert in the May 14, 2021 edition of Farmshine)
“It’s time to re-check the checkoff,” said Jones about the beef petition. “We want to signal to USDA that as cattle producers we are ready to vote again.”
She explained that in order for the Secretary of Agriculture to consider a referendum request, 10% of producers must sign the petition. This includes anyone who sold a beef animal and paid the $1/head checkoff, in the 12 months from July 2020 through July 2021, including beef cow-calf producers, seedstock producers, backgrounders, cattle feeders, dairy producers, and youth showing and selling livestock.
According to the 2017 Census, 10% of the beef producers would mean 89,000 signatures needed.
“But we don’t know the vetting process the Secretary will use to approve or deny the petition request, so we want to reach over 100,000 signatures by July 2021,” said Jones.
“The cattle landscape today is much different from 35 years ago,” she said. “Our checkoff does not support promotion of American-born-and-raised beef. We want to equalize the power for the grassroots U.S. cattle producer… the power and the dollars are falling into the hands of the few.”
According to Jones, the checkoff referendum petition seeks a return to balance as well as increased transparency and accountability, through the voting process. Proponents of the right to vote believe producers should be able to fund education and promotion that takes a stand for real, USA-produced beef, something the trends and supply chain partnerships emerging today – along with “government speech” rules — make difficult.
She talked about “mavericks” who were elected to the beef board in the past and tried to change the power structure of the lobbying groups and processing industry involvement. Jones said the current structure has gone on so long — uninterrupted — that a referendum petition is the only avenue many beef producers see today as a way to bring accountability back.
“This is a call to action. Many producers are still not aware of this beef checkoff referendum petition,” said Jones as she urged producers to be bold and harness the opportunities to set a direction that changes the balance of power.